Not unlike the thorned aliens sneaking into the peaceful city Glenview, Ohio, I couldn’t help but to feel unwelcome by the characters in The Watch. The experience is something like stumbling upon a comedic boys club’s night out, especially with the outsized personalities of Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. The two bring substantial frat cred to the picture, and they are backed by Hill’s familiar partners, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg who serve as writers. The team scrapes the bottom of the dude barrel for this screenplay, which is ripe with coarse jokes, sexism, and racial stereotypes that stretch the veneer of respectability of its actors and writers.
Vaughn’s character Bob sums up the movie when the neighborhood watch gather for their first meeting. “I love getting a chance to hang with the guys….Once a week, away from the wife and kids. Telling some dirty jokes, having some beers,” and that’s pretty much what The Watch is. Joining Bob is Franklin (Hill), a high school dropout and failed police recruit who thinks he’s signed up for a vigilante squad and wants the chance to “bust some heads.” Evan (Ben Stiller), the group’s convener, assures him that they are not there to kick ass and take names but to keep the neighborhood safe after the murder of his coworker. An overeager citizen who forms clubs more than he forms friendships, Evan tries to keep the group controlled and focused. Rounding out the upstanding quartet is Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a recent divorcé who has sex fantasies about Asian women.
Whatever their personal flaws, the watch do their best to track down the murderer, but mostly they invoke the ire of ordinary townspeople and the police, including a predictably inept officer played by Will Forte. Before long, they discover that aliens are the cause of all the deaths and begin to suspect that the hostile invaders are living amongst them. Evan’s creepy neighbor (Billy Crudup) gets special scrutiny from the group.
It’s a chance for these unlikely heroes to role-play and try to save the world, or at least Glenview, Ohio. The sci-fi element never really takes off though. While the aliens constitute a major part of the story, their presence still feels like an afterthought and doesn’t do much to propel the story forward. Instead, juvenile sex jokes get a bigger stage, and they are heaped on like the Magnum condom display that makes an important appearance. There’s even a full scale orgy for kicks, or whatever else.
When the characters aren’t laughing about balls or sticking their fingers into them – they come across a mysterious giant orb, they manage some worthy moments. Bob shows that he’s willing to sacrifice a lot to protect his daughter while Evan must confront his wife about his dishonesty over their decision to have children.
A toned down script punctuated by laughs that aren’t aimed solely at the bro set might make this a better film. (So would a less obvious marketing attempt by Costco.) Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill don’t do anything that we haven’t seen before, and they’re good at it when the material equals their talents. American audiences unfamiliar with British comedian Ayoade will either like his quirkiness and the novelty he brings to the Apatow-ish set, or they will balk at his awkward, stilted delivery. In any case, he also plays to type. It’s just too bad any of them chose this vehicle.
Prod: Shawn Levy
Dir: Akiva Shaffer
Writer: Jared Stern, Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Will Forte, Rosemarie DeWitt, Billy Crudup, Erin Moriarty, Nicholas Braun, Mel Rodriguez, R. Lee Ermey
Time: 102 min
Country: United States